Shaikh Nahyan with Shaikh Ali Al Hashemi, religious adviser to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Ali Z.A. Al Jifri (right), founder and General Director of the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies; and Monk Hegumen Issac Al Anba Bishoy (left), Shepherd of Saint Anthony Cathedral for Coptic Orthodox in Abu Dhabi, during the symposium held at Zayed University last week. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: More effective methods must be put into place, not only in the Middle East, but around the world to combat extremism, delegates at last week's interfaith seminar said.

"This seminar is important because there is a large Christian community in the Middle East and whether an individual is Christian or Muslim, we are all part of the same community and share the same values, language… We also all strive to reach the goals of each society in the region," said Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

"There is increasing concern regarding this issue, especially with the recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq and Egypt. We have to find an effective means to combat extremist rhetoric from both sides, as their goal is to cause instability and violence, which is unacceptable," he added.

Historic ties

Under the theme of ‘15 Centuries of Love and Affection', the seminar, which was organised by The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment, the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies and Zayed University, saw religious leaders, scholars and invited guests discuss the histori ties between Muslim and Christian Arabs as well as recent violent events in the region.

"When I spoke with [Monk Hegumen] Issac [Al Anba Bishoy, Shepherd of Saint Anthony Cathedral for Coptic Orthodox in Abu Dhabi], about organising this seminar, I was unsure whether he would agree to be a part of it but I was relieved when he agreed to do so, and to address the violence and tensions in the region. While the situations faced here are not unique to the Arab World in the face of globalisation, technology and economic growth… Hopefully, we can raise awareness about our creeds, because even though we have different methods of worship, we all worship the same God," Al Habib Ali Z.A. Al Jifri, founder and General Director of the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies, said.

"When I asked Issac for suggestions for the name of the seminar, I was surprised when he said ‘15 Centuries of Love and Affection', especially in the wake of the violence in Egypt… but he said that in addition to our long and shared histories, religious leaders have an obligation to combat extremism not only by saying they disapprove of it, but also by going out and actively talking to people and finding solutions within the community," he added.

Both speakers agreed that while there has been an increased politicisation of religion in recent years, especially in the wake of September 11 and the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which led to increased violence and tensions among the two religious communities, there are still countries where they still enjoy peaceful co-existence.

"The UAE is a wonderful example of peaceful co-existence and tolerance, especially since it is a primarily Muslim country. People of various faiths are able to practice their religions freely, such as Christians worshipping in churches thanks to wonderful generosity shown by Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the continuing efforts of President Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the UAE government to enhance the UAE's image as a land of tolerance and prosperity," Al Anba Bishoy said.